It Came From Beneath the Sea
During the fifties the world was changing. World War two ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. The new age of the atom had begun. For the population of the United States there were social changes almost as powerful as these bombs. Women had been forced out of the kitchen and into the work place. Communism was considered the ultimate evil. This was a time of great hope tempered with immense fear. Movies have always reflected the attitudes of the public and this time was no different. One genre that is almost unique to this time period was the giant creature created or instigated by atomic weapons. One of the cult classics of this time is ‘It Came from Beneath the Sea’. As with many films of this time it begins with a narrative voice explaining how mankind has come so far with science and technology but "Man had thought of everything except that beyond his comprehension,". From that ominous beginning the film tells the tale of how nuclear weapons has disturbed the feeding grounds of a giant octopus forced by atomic mutation to seek a new food source, man. Okay, the plot is more than a bit hokey, but you have to remember the prevalent emotions of the 50s. Science was the two edged sword, it provided great benefits to even the most typical household but it also was the source of fear, weapons and mutations would threaten our existence. What makes this film stand a cut above most of the genre is the inclusion of a little romantic tension between the required military man Naval Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey), the handsome scientist John Carter (Donald Curtis) and the beautiful marine biologist Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue). Where most of these stories are straightforward monster hunts this one adds a little emotion flavor with this 50s style romantic triangle. They track the monster’s progress as it moves in from sea, destroying fishing boats in its wake, to the showdown on the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Of course what science has created science must destroy and with the unprecedented cooperation between the military, civil authorities and scientist a plan is devised to destroy the monster. This cooperative nature between all the authority figures of the nation is another cornerstone of the time. Films like this helped to reassure the public that their governments were actively working with science to not only better their lives but to create a peaceful world free of worry. Propaganda, sure it is but done is a way that the public could easily live with.
The cast of this flick were no strangers to giant monsters and science fiction threats. Tobey made a career out of a lot more than playing the military man fighting to save the world. His long film resume demonstrates that this unsung hero of American cinema has been one of the busiest character actors of our time. He had range that showed he could take on any part no matter how big or small and make us believe him as that person. Here he demonstrates the confidence the military had of rising to any and all challenges to protect the nation he serves. Domergue was also a versatile actress. Perhaps the role she was best known for was as another scientist in ‘This Island Earth’. As a woman of the fifties she demonstrated that the chains to the kitchen where forever broken. Women where now able to get not only a basic education but move into the level of professional studies and go toe to toe with men in any endeavor. The interactions of these characters were a touch above the usual for the genre and helped sell the film as more than a horror flick.
Robert Gordon did an excellent job of directing this film. He sets up the shots with a professional élan, the lighting is well done considering the limitations of the time. There is, of course, the reliance on stock footage, often from the US military, inter cut in the film. This not only served to provide exposition but it did keep the cost of the film down. The real star of this film is the lamented villain, the octopus, created by the master and grandfather of stop action film Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen has always been a favorite of mine. I grew up with his special effects. More important than his affect on me was how he influenced certain young people like George Lucas, Steve Spielberg and so many others that have grown into the directors that make films that stretch the limits of what special effects are capable of doing. Harryhausen was the best around for not only creating monsters of all shapes and sizes but he was able to instill a certain pathos into his creations. His work was full of detail and demonstrated his love for this medium. His animation of the showdown at the bridge still holds up as one of the best special effects sequences ever.
Columbia/Tristar did an excellent job of mastering this film. The video is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 original aspect ratio. The picture is great especially considering the age of the source material. There are almost no defects present on the disc. The black and white picture is crisp and attentive to details. The audio mix is also the original mono soundtrack. I did find that pushing the sound through the Prologic theater mode brought me to seeing films like this in the grand old theaters of my youth. There are two very nicely done extras provided on this DVD. The first, the Harryhaseun Chronicles gives a little glimpse into just how imaginative this man was and the incredible contribution he made to his craft. The second extra is ‘This is Dynamation’ a little look at the filming technique used in this movie. In all this is more than a cult classic. If you aren’t into Harryhausen yet get this film and start admiring his work. If you are my age this is a trip down memory lane. For those a bit younger watch this and learn how it all started, how the films we all love today got started with films that although primitive by today’s standards where groundbreaking at the time.